We had the good fortune of connecting with Kara Brusven and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Kara, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
This question is incredibly intriguing to me. Mainly because, out of all the questions for this interview, my friends and family told me that this question is the one they would be most curious to hear my thoughts on. I personally found this to be quite humorous because I am at a point in my life where things are slightly off-balance! This is largely due to having finished my undergraduate degree, releasing my first album, performing as a musician amidst a pandemic, and moving from the Midwest to Miami to start graduate school. Despite these recent changes, I think that my struggle at times with balance qualifies me quite well to talk about what balance is and is not because I am well aware of how both sides of the spectrum can feel in my own life.

Regarding how my balance has changed over time, I would say that my balance has ebbed and flowed based on a combination of circumstances and mindset. At times, especially towards the beginning of my undergraduate degree, I filled up my schedule and left no room for balance in my life. I barely left time to eat, sleep, or relax. This led to negativity in my personal relationships, a repetitive strain injury that could have been the end of my music career, and plenty of other physical and mental health issues that landed me in the emergency room at one point. Due to the choices that were within my control, any negativity in my life that was beyond my control became magnified. This would be a good example of how choices, that are mostly within our control, can lead to circumstances that can be unbalanced and stressful. Would NOT recommend!

To contrast this example, my junior year of college, I was in a significantly healthier place in life and was making choices that were purposely aimed at prioritizing a balanced lifestyle. Unfortunately, at the end of the school year, our classes went completely online and the world “shut down” because of the pandemic. However, despite the grief and hardship many of us experienced, I felt like I really grew as a person and as a musician. I found a new passion for my career choice, connected more with my family and friends, and learned a lot about self-reflection and what a content lifestyle looks like to me. This would be a great example of how life can throw hard circumstances your way, that are beyond your control, but you can still find balance amidst the outer chaos.

So, you are probably asking, why am I discussing all of this “fun” information?! I am highlighting these two examples because, I have found personally, that balance in life is not dictated by specific habits and lifehacks. Although life circumstances can certainly contribute to our own personal balance in life, balance is also not dictated by circumstances alone. There is no one-way ticket to balance in life. We are all incredibly different people that need to find that unique point of contentment in our own lives.

This last point brings us to how I have come to define balance in my life. Balance comes down to how content we are with our current life circumstances and how our mindset and choices align with our personal values. When we approach balance from this perspective, we will often find that our lives will almost automatically become more balanced because we make choices from a place of “how does this line up with what I truly care about in life” versus “I need to do this because I need the money, the validation, the distraction, etc.” If we are not content, what can we do, that is within our control, to work towards a more content spot in life? What in life is beyond our control that we need to process and let go of? These are important questions that we need to ask ourselves when we start recognizing imbalance in our lives.

It is important for me to acknowledge that the contentment I am referring to is not the same thing as happiness. Anything in life can make you happy. For example. I just ate a wonderful dinner and felt pretty happy afterwards! Does that mean I have found my true purpose or resting place in life? Of course not! It just means I did something that gave me access to a temporary feeling. Contentment is much more than this. Contentment is the deep-seated understanding that, regardless of what happens in life, your values and purpose will sustain beyond the current situation you find yourself in.

This is how I personally have come to think of balance. The best part about this realization in my life has been knowing that I do not need to be a perfect or stereotypically successful person to be at a good spot in my life. I just need to find out what works best for me, based on where I am at currently, and go from there. Life will still be hard at times. We will still deal with imbalance on and off because we are human. However, looking beyond the current situation from a place of contentment grants us the insight and strength we need to persevere through hard circumstances. With this perspective, we are better able to learn from hard situations by making choices that closely align with our values and unique purpose in life.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Personally, I absolutely love being as stereotypically non-stereotypical as possible in my approach to both music and life! I like to meet my listener’s expectations of a genre, by accurately representing the foundational traits of different styles of music, while also pleasantly surprising them with new musical perspectives that they may have never heard before. A great real world example of this would be when people start to categorize me after hearing that I study classical guitar performance. They immediately have this picture in their mind of a reserved, mild-mannered guitarist that plays private concerts and has no idea how to improvise on the spot! This description, depending on the situation, can sometimes be partially true for me regarding how I carry myself. However, more often than not, this stereotype sets me up quite well to expand the expectations of the individual I am speaking with by discussing my training in jazz, my gigging experience with rock and pop bands, my ability to also sing and play piano, the film-scoring and arranging that I have done, and how my weekend jams range from Haydn to Jacob Collier to Joe Pass!

My first album, that was released in Spring 2021 and is titled “Two Halves of One Whole”, is another great example of how this perspective plays out in my own work. We recorded three solo classical guitar pieces, one jazz trio piece, and one four-horn jazz combo piece all on the same recording. What was “stereotypical” about this recording was: the choice in instruments, how I arranged the parts for the jazz pieces, our overall technical and expressive approach to the music, and the recording techniques we used to highlight what is aurally expected by the listener for each genre of music. The “non-stereotypical” aspects of this recording were: putting jazz and classical on the same recording, throwing a guitar ensemble in at the end of the jazz combo piece, and recording the jazz combo in separate pairs instead of as a live group.

In addition to this recording, my undergraduate senior recital/album release party was an extension of this same concept. After the concert, I had multiple audience members approach me saying they really enjoyed how seamlessly we brought them from “Bach to Rock” within an hour of time with over eight different ensemble orientations. This event perfectly exemplified how genres of music are linked to each other and influence one another throughout history. By formatting the program this way, we were able to expand the tastes and perspectives of the audience while also appropriately reflecting the various strengths of a wide variety of musical genres.

Moving forward, I am currently working on a few projects here in Miami, outside of my graduate studies in Guitar Performance at the University of Miami, that are for live performances and various studio recordings. Additionally, I am doing an in-depth analysis of more current genres that I would like to reflect in the album I am in the process of composing. Although it has been wonderful adjusting to the Miami music scene, I am definitely taking things one step at a time! Long-term, I look forward to continuing to connect with musicians here, for both studio work and live performances, while also maintaining collaborations with my friends back in the Midwest!

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I have only been a Miami resident for a few months so I will try my best! Luckily, I also have been exploring quite a bit, to prepare for some friends that are coming in the spring, so I should know at least a few good spots!

The first place we would go is Crandon Beach and Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. Both beaches are nice, quiet, and perfect for long walks along the water. Additionally, there are some really cool historical elements at the lighthouse in the state park that most visitors would appreciate. After a long walk, we would grab a Boba tea at Miu’s Tea in South Miami before eating dinner at Miyako Japanese Restaurant. At some point in the week, I would love to bring my friend to some live music at the Frost Institute of Music. I have found their guest artist events to be quite incredible. Additionally, the campus itself is worth a walk-around due to how pretty the lake and pathways are. As is often the case with most of my friends, we will most likely improvise a bit in the week as well regarding food spots and discover some other local music hangs along the way. I have found that there are plenty of small “hole-in-the-wall” restaurants and venues in Miami. I think the best way to explore these is to simply drive out to a place like Wynwood, Little Havana, or Downtown Miami and walk around with an open mind to what the culture has to offer.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I would love to give a Shoutout to my family, friends, and teachers that have supported me as a musician and as a person. A few specific people I would like to thank are: my parents, my four sisters, my close friends back in the Midwest, my first guitar instructor Kerry Freidel, my professors from the music department at Minnesota State University Moorhead, and the excellent faculty I have been working with here at University of Miami. Honestly, there are way too many people that I am thankful for so I will stop there for now! The people in my life truly are my encouragement and inspiration to continuously strive towards my goals. I would not have been able to make this move to Miami without their love and support. Because of this social network, I can continue to create my music with their words of encouragement and acts of kindness at the forefront of my mind. Thank you so much to all of the people in my life that have shown me so much love and consideration!

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/karabrusven/

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kara-brusven-a22a9017b/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BrusvenKara

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KaraBrusven/

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/KaraBrusvenGuitarPianoVocal

Other: Streaming Services https://karabrusven.hearnow.com/

Image Credits
Booge Enterprises, Erdene Davaa, Kelly Bethke

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